A season of change, notably in the colour of the leaves, autumn is certainly living up to its reputation at a St. Jacobs-area bakery, where the longtime owners have retired and a new chef is taking the reins.
RiverSong Bakery & Café was started as a banquet hall more than a decade ago by John and Susan Pries, before eventually expanding to include a bakery and café. The couple recently decided to retire after 12 years in the foodservice industry, celebrating their last day of operation on August 17.
While currently closed, the bakery will re-open September 11 under new management: veteran chef Bruce Duff will be taking over the day-to-day operations and event planning.
“I’m getting an idea of what they already have here – I’m not going to do anything really drastic in the beginning. I’m going to keep a similar format that they have,” said Duff, on changes to the bakery.
“I would like to have some more events. Maybe to host some kind of a cooking class, a Caribbean night, team-building events … those kinds of things would be nice to have on occasion. There are just so many potential things to do.”
The café will also see the installation of a point of sale system under this new management. Duff has also scheduled a PD day baking camp for kids 7-12 on September 20.
He is no stranger to teaching others about his passion, has he’s been a chef instructor at Conestoga College since 2011, as well as the owner of Chef Duff Culinary Creations in Kitchener.
His résumé includes many restaurants across the region: he worked as an executive chef at the Huether Hotel in Waterloo, as well as Kitchener-based restaurants Westmount Golf & Country Club, and the Walper Terrace Hotel. Duff said each experience encompassed a different style of food preparation.
“In those type of facilities you’re doing high-end stuff, but you’re also doing breakfast, short-order cooking, burgers, sandwiches, you’re doing big functions, à la carte cooking,” explained Duff. “There’s nothing that you’re not doing in those kinds of establishments.”
The couple knew Duff years before this operational change, as their son worked with Duff at Huether Hotel years ago, and Susan met Duff’s wife through the Waterloo County Teachers’ Choir.
When he caught wind that the couple was retiring, the idea to help out with the restaurant stuck with him. Eventually, the three had a meeting where the decision was finalized.
Spending more time with their grandchildren along with their three children is also on their to-do list, the couple added. They won’t be far away; John and Susan reside on the upper level of the bakery café.
“Part of the retirement plan is just to enjoy the property,” said John. “Being able to get out and wander around or just sit outside and not have to worry about food preparation.”
John will continue to host nature walks for interested customers at the five-acre property located on the bank of the Conestogo River. The property has plenty of space out back, a beautiful view of the river, and lush green wetlands along the riverbank.
The vegetation supports a variety of wildlife: birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. There is an active osprey nest next to the parking lot of the bakery café, multiple painted turtle nests buried beneath the volleyball court, a family of muskrats and a beaver dam near the river.
“The outdoors activities is where my heart is. Susan has always wanted to have someplace where she could prepare food. She likes being in the kitchen; she likes experimenting,” said John.
The bakery side features breads/mini loaves such as oat and RiverSong bread; as well as pastries including cinnamon buns and angel scones. Duff is considering offering a variety of baked pies depending on customer requests.
“For us, it’s been about the people coming here,” said Susan. “A lot of what we’ve done has been family gatherings and groups as opposed to big fancy events.
“From our standpoint, it’s kind of like going to grandma’s house and having a nice dinner for banquets. This place, for us, it’s cozy.”
RiverSong plays host to special events from time to time, including Saturday brunches and concerts. Day retreats and a banquet hall for events such as church functions are also on offer, making it a multi-use business.
John and Susan have many fond memories of customers throughout the years, including a group of mothers who stayed at the establishment for six hours one time, and a University of Waterloo professor who would bike there and read for several hours on the side patio.
“We encourage people just to take their time,” explained John.
“We’ve had a number of customers in here with dementia or Alzheimer’s and they seem to really appreciate this place because it’s relatively quiet. And they don’t have all the disturbance of music going, and that type of thing.”